CAIRO: Members of the Democratic Union of Nubian Youth (DUNY) said in a press conference Wednesday that the military rule since the 1960s has failed to this day to end the suffering of Nubians.
DUNY slammed the administration of the ruling military council and their mismanagement of the security file across the country and in the land of the Nuba in specific, where organized gangs of armed thugs are constantly attacking peaceful Nubians, stealing power and communications cables and vandalizing private property.
"The most flagrant misadministration by the current government was what happened recently in Abou-Simbel village in Nuba when a bridge on [Nasr El-Nuba] Canal collapsed, leading to the flooding of 50 houses and two schools," DUNY spokesman Yahia Zaied said.
Zaied blamed the lack of immediate response from the Aswan governor Mostafa El-Sayed, who reportedly sent a rescue mission 12 hours late, leading to damage that could have been easily avoided if the crisis was better managed.
"Since Jan. 28 when police forces completely withdrew from the street, Nuba has suffered a severe security vacuum," Zaied said, citing tens of Nubian villages suffering complete power and communications cuts due to the stealing of cables and vandalism.
"We do have our own reasons to believe that these attacks by thugs are done in coordination with police forces," Zaied claimed. "Members of popular committees met with head of Aswan Security Directorate and gave him a full list of the names of the thugs and where they live, but nothing was done since then."
Lawyer and Nubian activist Salah Zaki Mourad said that it is dangerous when peaceful Nubians are forced to arm themselves to protect their property.
"This is a dangerous alarm," Mourad said, adding that the Nubian problem needs “to be carefully addressed by political forces who will rule the country later."
Failing to control the security vacuum and other issues in Nuba since January, under three different cabinets, shows that the problem stems from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Zaied said. This demonstrated a continuation of the same military rule that has over the decades failed Nubians, he added.
Representatives of political parties and rights groups offered support during the conference. While some were self-critical for neglecting minorities’ problems, others called for restructuring age-old state policies.
The Nubian issue dates back to 1902 when the Aswan Dam was built near Nubian villages. The residents were displaced to avoid continued flooding. The crisis reached its peak in the 1960s when late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser imposed a forced migration policy on 44 Nubian villages to build the High Dam.
Since then, Nubians have repeatedly complained that the places to which they were relocated were not suitable for the life to which they have been accostumed for decades, in the desert, away from the Nile, which represents an important cultural value for Nubians.
"The Egyptian state only cares about the monuments there, only after international organizations like the UNESCO decided to save the heritage, but there was no concern for the humans who lost their culture and legacy," he said.
Zaied slammed El-Sayed’s remarks during the Abou-Simbel crisis when he quickly assured the media that the sinking village was far from Abou-Simbel Temple. "As if Egyptians should only care about the monuments and let’s forget about the safety of the human beings whose life and property is in danger," Zaied commented.
He noted that the problem wasn’t about the High Dam, which represents an important development project, but with the way the state dealt with the problems of forced migration of Nubians after it was built.
"We want to be relocated again on the Nile’s banks; any other attempts to detach us from the Nile and relocate us in the desert will not satisfy Nubians," he added.
He claimed that the UNESCO paid the Egyptian government large sums of money to relocate the displaced communities to new villages, but as the villages were built, residents from other provinces across the country, from Sohag and Kafr El-Shiekh, moved in.
"We do not know if these were attempts to change the demography of the area or if it is a way to cause a rift between Nubians and other fellow Egyptians," Zaied said.
Lawyer and Head of Hisham Mubarak Law Center Ahmed Ragheb criticized the lack of attention given by rights organizations to minority issues like the Nubian case.
"One of the policies of the ousted regime to marginalize the problems of minorities was tying them to the idea of the unity of the state, labeling anyone defending these rights as attempts to divide the state and invite foreign intervention," Ragheb said.
"We need to redefine the Egyptian national fabric," he said. "We are not one entity or one culture like the ousted regime has been telling us; we are based on diversity not homogeneity."
Once Egyptians are aware of such a fact, he continued, the problems facing minorities will be easier to solve. It will enable the people to understand their differences and act towards coexistence, he added.
"The failing … theory of having a unified development plan for the entire country regardless of the cultural, socioeconomic, demographic specificity of every area in Egypt has to change," representative of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party Elham Eidarous said.
Now demands to solve minority issues are labelled "sector-specific" demands, he said. “There are attempts to [silence] the voices calling for minority rights."
Eidarous explained that international rights charters recommend that residents of underdeveloped areas be consulted on the development plans executed on their land. "That’s what should happen with Nubians who should decide where to be relocated."
Representative of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party Sally Sami said that the ruling military council’s failure to deal with the Nubian problem was no different from their failur to confront many other problems facing the country.
"It is a repetition of Mubarak policies while dealing with the Egyptian citizen as not being part of the equation. The relationship between the citizen and the state needs to be redefined," she said.
"We have to merge our general issues like freedom and social justice with the specific problems of minorities, citizenship and environmental issues," she added.
Zaied said that the tactics of relocating Nubians could be negotiated. "But the right of return of thousands of Nubians who were forcefully displaced from 44 Nubian villages will never be compromised."